I have some pretty strong feelings about eugenics (it's a good and necessary practice), but I find it very, VERY difficult to talk about it with anyone since I'm instantly labeled a Nazi for supporting it. I'm hoping the folks on Think Atheist will be more inclined to intellectual discussion than name-calling and dismissal.


The start off, some disclaimers: genocide is wrong; taking human rights away from people of a race/religion/hairstyle you don't like is wrong; concentration camps are wrong; violence in wrong.


There. Now to the actual discussion.


When I talk about eugenics, I'm talking about the practice of systematically removing debilitating genetic traits and defects from a population by means of regulating the reproduction of its citizens. Do you have Schizophrenia? Did you know that this ailment is genetic and very easy to pass on to you children? Please, do not punish an innocent child with this problem. Are you genetically healthy, intelligent, and talented? Do you have special immunities that make you less likely to get sick? By all means, spread these traits to future generations, either by having children yourself or donating to a sperm or egg bank. Do you want children but should not carry your genetic problems onto them? Adopt. Adoption will always be available no matter what the society (just because someone has good genetic material does NOT mean they would make a good parent). Do you say that adoption is not the same? Then I suppose you care more about satisfying your selfish desires than the well being of a child.


Eugenics is, at its base, very simple - think about the future first.

I'm leaving this post now for what I'm hoping will be thoughtful and anti-inflammatory discussion.

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I, like a lot of people, have seen first hand what genetic diseases can do to a person.  My grandmother is a survivor of cancer and is now in the late stages of Alzheimer's.  I can see the benefits of regulating the the reproduction of the human race to limit certain genes from being passed to the next generation.  My fear with this practice is that in limiting some traits, we also run the risk of limiting mutations and further evolution of our species as a whole.  Are we at the pinnacle of our species where we can say we are happy with what we've accomplished?  It is all the genes working together that make us unique.  I think, eventually, we as a species will implement selective breeding eventually wiping out genetic diseases.
I'm not convinced that genetic "abnormalities" and diseases are overall a bad thing.  How does one person, even a collection of people presume the omnipotence to understand all the consequences of directly manipulating the gene pool? The expression, "playing god" comes to mind. There is the struggle for survival and understanding of the science of our existence and then there is the misguided idea that we can actually know enough to decide that one thing is to be valued over another. I will return to my previous premise. If the goal is to eliminate vast amounts of disease and improve quality and happiness in life we need to radically alter our worldview on food, medicine, education, and what it means to live in a free society. No one should ever tell me or my daughter, or you and your children whether or not we should or should not reproduce.

It's not about saying who is allowed to, it's just about making your genes healthier before they begin the baby-making process so your child is healthier than it otherwise would be. And many people here agree it should be a choice, not a requirement. I think you are confusing preventable and genetic disease - some genetic diseases are NOT curable by diet. Alzheimers, Motor Neuron disease... etcetera and so forth. The medical treatments for many are VERY expensive, and it is a bill your child may be left to pay. This is certainly not fair.

Humanity has been playing god ever since we started algebra and medicine. There is no good argument appealing to us "overstepping" ourselves - why should we assume we are limited in out abilities? And then never even try to establish what they are?

Too busy to discuss but wanted to say that I love your summary on this subject- really well written - and I totally agree.

I think that it's an almost meaningless arguement, because transhumanism makes eugenics obsolete. Some may say that most of the accomplishments of eugenics that could theoretically be replaced by transhumanism don't exist yet, however while two people can experiment with selective breeding instantly, dramatic results are going to take much more time(generations) than transhumanist technologies would to develop.


Ignoring all ethical and moral aspects, even from a completely utilitarian perspective, the amount of money that it would take to enforce involuntary selective breeding on a widespread scale is probably much more expensive than developing a cost effective embryo screening service. A company called the fertility institute announced that they were going to start development on a business model for that but, they quit because of a pretty dramatic negative reaction from the general public. Furthermore, embryo screening would do way more than eugenics could accomplish.

Why does eugenics have to be involuntary?

For two people who want to hand pick each other for the genetics, it doesn't have to be involuntary. However I don't think that the widespread scale scenario is realistic voluntarily(sorry to have not been clear on that).


As I mentioned before though, genetic improvements on par with embryo screening can't really be reached with just two consenting people(well it can, but there's a small chance, and why let chance get involved when you can have a direct science instead?) In fact, it wouldn't be realistic to think that genetic improvements on par with embryo screening could be achieved by an entire generation of the world breeding only through good genetic matches.


Of coarse, you're absolutely rite. There could be some cultural revolution where everyone becomes really interested in eugenics and achieves selective breeding on a worldwide scale... That sounds incredibly unrealistic to me though, where as embryo screening... even if it was only done by a small community of rich people, they would rapidly become genetically superior in a few generations, and be able to pick partners for more convenient reasons.

Ok, so what if there were a publicly funded program that offered free tubal-ligation/vasectomy as well as storage of your eggs/sperm for later use?  Upon deciding to reclaim your 'donation' you could also have the publicly funded option of screening for genetic markers for a limited set diseases.  There could even be an option for "if my genes contain those markers, please substitute with similar material sans those markers and don't tell me".  Then, of course, publicly funded in vitro fertilization for those who take part in the program.


Now, don't you think a lot of people would be rather eager to take part to at least some degree?  Don't you think a lot of parents would be interested in encouraging their children to take part?  Wouldn't cutting back on thousands of unplanned pregnancies in and of itself be a good start to better foundations for parenting environments?  Even if only 1/3rd of people screened for the markers, that could cut back on occurrences of those childhood diseases by 30% each generation - which would get us moving in the correct direction.


Does this sound incredibly unrealistic?

I'm sorry, I'm having trouble understanding the proposed program. The eggs and sperm are collected and them matched together and then given back on demand?

"does this sound incredibly unrealistic?"


"Now, don't you think a lot of people would be rather eager to take part to at least some degree?  Don't you think a lot of parents would be interested in encouraging their children to take part?"


I wouldn't doubt for a second that a large number of people would participate. There are a lot of people in the world. But in ratio to the world population I don't think that any eugenics program will be used prevalently because many people want children with someone that they're attached to in some monogomous relationship.


"Wouldn't cutting back on thousands of unplanned pregnancies in and of itself be a good start to better foundations for parenting environments?"




"Even if only 1/3rd of people screened for the markers, that could cut back on occurrences of those childhood diseases by 30% each generation - which would get us moving in the correct direction."


I think that your right that this would be a move in the right direction. 30% may even be better than natural selection before humans. However, it's interesting that the example of the "program" you proposed is very similar to embryo screening, other than that in your proposed program, the materials that make the embryo are screened, rather than embryos themselves. I find this interesting specifically because our proposed programs are really only one step apart from being the same thing, and that that one step defines the difference between eugenics and transhumanism.


I'm really not as familiar with genetics as I'd like to be to give you a good arguement, but my figures and understands of it could be wrong. But lets compare and contrast our two proposed programs. Assuming your figure of 30% per generation is accurate, the 30% per generation is good. However, why not just skip screening for the sperm and eggs, and just screen the embryos for a 100% elimination of predispositions for diseases?


In addition to that, biology is just so slow, which is entirely why the Huxley family dropped their defense on eugenics and replaced it with transhumanism. 30% per generation is good in comparison to other biological methods, but to say that it's slow in comparison to technological progression would be an extremely dramatic understatement. While there has only been one man made living cell, and it's incredibly simple, even if moors law caps off when computers are near atom sized, amino acids, being atom sized and all, won't really be as expensive to assemble as they are now. I mention this because artificial amino acid assembly will probably be realistic in less than a few generations(or maybe just one) making both eugenics and even embryo screening obsolete.


Check this video out. In many ways it's an overview of our current state in transhumanism http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovV7v2XYJAI

I'll check the vid when I get home from work - I don't have 20 minutes to spare in my morning routine today.  Anyway, all I'm suggesting for a program is an system that will empower people to truly control their own reproduction.  You can go off to a publicly funded clinic, deposit your sperm or eggs, and have your tubes tied or get a vasectomy.  You can still meet the person you want to have children with, go together to the clinic and get invitro fertilization with your own material on demand.  This simply empowers many more people to take part in planned parenthood.  I think that sort of program would get a very high percentage of people interested in participation.


Now the 'eugenics' part is inserted by giving them the option of screening their genetics when they plan to have children - with the option of swapping for genetic material free of particular flaws, if they so choose.  Perhaps anti-dysgenics is a better term for it.


What I feel is most powerful about this system is that it would be very appealing to a very wide range of people.  You can still preach abstinence if you are religious, but realistically you can also prevent unplanned pregnancies from 'sinful moments'. :D

So when you say "swap" genetic material, you don't mean matching to a different partner? You mean switching the specific sperm and egg from the same partners?


To be honest, I don't have the knowledge of genetics that would be required to agree or contest the practicality of that. I've been given the impression from a few biologists that the methods I learned in public school to asses the probability of passing genetic traits(pundit squares) are complete bullshit.


So a question comes to mind. If you know all the genetic details of the sperm and egg, are there probabilities in deciding which of those traits(be they dominant or otherwise) pass onto the embryo, or is it a direct science, independant of any chance(I actually don't believe chance is likely to exist but that's a completely different convo). However, I'd like to emphasize that even if the genetic traits of an embryo could be certainly determined by learning the traits of the sperm and egg that make that embryo, screening the genetic traits of the embryo would still be superior to screening the sperm and egg, if nothing else than from the fact that you would have to screen 1/2 as many times(in that situation, that would seriously be the only difference rite?)


I may try to look that up later, but if you beat me to it then much appreciated :)


I think I should also really emphasize that I never meant to say that your idea what was bad idea. I think it's a great idea! I merely meant to say that as far as the end result, there's a better alternative that makes it obsolete. 


:You can still preach abstinence if you are religious, but realistically you can also prevent unplanned pregnancies from 'sinful moments"


you seem to think that just because your idea is a good idea, people are likely to accept it. Keep in mind the reaction of the abstinence preachers to the HPV vaccine(a situation that I believe closely parallels the preventative effects that your plan could provide). I think that were talking about something that matters, and while I think you understand what I'm saying, and I think that I understand what you're saying, I wouldn't think that many religious people who propose abstinence will actually even understand very much of our conversation. And we've been given so many reasons to believe that the bulk of theist population doesn't understand genetics.  I really think you've been overly optimistic about people. 


It would help me understand your train of thought if I knew where you were from.

Either screening the sperm/egg to the end of swapping the sperm/egg if one doesn't like the probability offered of passing problematic genetic traits or screening the ebryo for invitro fertilization.  The key, I feel, is to give people the option.


I realize many theists may not go for it, but after a generation of those who are rational enough to make the choice ending up with healthier children, aren't we already moving in the right direction?


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